Arafat provokes Sharon. How will Israel respond?

The Arab summit that opened yesterday in Beirut is to be the most scandalous ever. First, more than one half of the Arab leaders have ignored the summit, and Yasser Arafat, Hosni Mubarak, and Jordan’s King Abdullah II are not present at the summit. This very fact calls into question the legitimacy of decisions to be made at the summit. Unfortunately, not everybody understands the importance of the summit, which is not an ordinary one: the future of the Middle East, and of Palestinian state in particular, is to be decided upon. Very often, we see that political ambitions prevail over common sense. The very first day of the summit may serve as an example.

News agencies report that the Palestinian delegation has left the summit because Lebanon refused to organize Yasser Arafat’s appearance via satellite television. To demonstrate solidarity with the Palestinians, the Saudi and Qatar delegations left the summit as well. Later, it was reported that the Palestinian delegation would return to Beirut.

As for the Saudi peace plan, the Arab leaders are reported to have approved of it on the whole. However, the total approval (that can also hardly be called total, as many Arab leaders were not present at the summit) does not mean that Israel will also agree to it too.

It is clear that Ariel Sharon is not enthusiastic about the Saudi peace plan. He is experiencing at the same time perpetual pressure from the USA, which uses its envoy to the Middle East to try to force Sharon to resume the peace talks. That is why the Israeli prime minister has to manoeuvre between the USA and the Arab world in order to obtain an agreement that can be favorable to Israel. The other day, he suggested that, first of all, a peace treaty is to be concluded with the Arab world, and only after, can the territorial problem be dealt with.

It is hard to say to what extent Sharon’s tactics during the talks with the Arab world are correct One of his mistakes is perfectly evident: Ariel Sharon should have let Yasser Arafat go to the summit in Beirut.

Indeed, the conditions for Arfat's participation have not been fulfilled, but Palestinian kamikadzes are on full alert. On Wednesday evening, a suicide bomber detonated himself in the hall of the Park Hotel in the Israeli city of Netanya. Nineteen people were killed, and over hundred were wounded. Arafat certainly condemned the act of terrorism and promised a crackdown, but this can hardly be believed.

On the other hand, it is not of great importance now. Israel’s reaction to the act of terrorism will be very important. No matter how the situation further develops, Arafat will be the winner in any case. If Israel responds with force to the act of terrorism, Arafat will accuse Israel of obstruction of the peace process. The Beirut summit will then gain a new life, and Arab leaders will forget their discrepancies and take up arms against Israel. US special envoy Anthony Zinni will support Yassser Arafat under such conditions, and the whole Arab world will be on Arafat’s side as well. If Jordan joins the anti-Israel campaign, it will mean a failure of the US’s policy oriented toward a Middle East settlement. Egypt and Jordan are countries that once concluded a peace treaty with Israel. The USA expects that these countries will be able to persuade the Arab leaders to change their attitudes toward Israel.

Dmitry Litvinovich PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Maria Gousseva

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